Vegan sun-dried tomato pesto with capers and lemon zest

This vegan sun-dried tomato pesto with capers and lemon zest is perfect both as spread and as pasta sauce. An entirely plant-based pesto, it gets its texture from sun-dried tomatoes in oil and toasted pine nuts. Add extra lemon zest for a refreshing combination of flavours.

Vegan sun-dried tomato pesto with capers and lemon zest. A refreshing and flavourful pesto that works great as a spread or as pasta sauce. It is entirely vegan and very easy to make.

Green basil pesto alla genovese is probably the first that comes to mind to many, when picturing pesto in their minds. There are more varieties of pesto in Italy than only the famous Ligurian one. Pesto alla calabrese is a delicious combination of roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, ricotta and chilli pepper. Pesto alla trapanese is made with tomatoes, basil and almonds.

The traditional way of making pesto – what gives it its name in Italian – is by crushing (pestare) the ingredients in a mortar with a pestle. Therefore, it’s not the green basil leaves per se that make a sauce qualify as pesto. It is the process, the way it is made. By crushing, although nowadays many prefer to use a food processor. This explains why there are so many pesto varieties that do not resemble the genovese one at all.

The addition of cheese (parmigiano, pecorino, but also ricotta) is a common feature in pesto recipes. In this post I’m sharing a dairy free pesto. By leaving the cheese out, this pesto is vegan. It takes just a few minutes to put together and only a handful of ingredients: sun-dried tomatoes and their oil, capers, pine nuts, lemon zest. Garlic is an unmissable pesto ingredient, but you can choose whether to include it or not. Read on for the full vegan sun-dried pesto recipe.

Sun-dried tomatoes in oil, toasted pine nuts in a skillet, capers, lemon zest and three garlic cloves.
To make vegan sun-dried pesto I recommend the use of sun-dried tomatoes in oil.

How to make sun-dried tomato pesto

Making pesto is really just a matter of collecting all the ingredients and blitzing them in a food processor. In this vegan pesto we are adding one simple step at the beginning, that is toasting the pine nuts. To do that, you add the pine nuts to a hot skillet and keep them on medium-high heat for about 4 minutes. It is very important to never lose sight of them as it only takes seconds for the pine nuts to burn.

Move the pine nuts around the pan constantly to ensure all the sides get in direct contact with the hot pan. Immediately remove from the pan when done to stop the toasting as well as to let them cool down a bit. This step will not take more than 5 minutes and really elevates the overall flavour of your pesto. Check for yourself by tasting a pine nut before toasting and then tasting a toasted one. I challenge you to stop at one.

Once your toasted pine nuts are ready, it’s just a matter of adding all the ingredients to a food processor. I recommend using sun-dried tomatoes in oil, as they are super moist and flavourful. Plus, we’re gonna use that very oil, which is also nicely flavoured from the tomatoes itself. If there was not enough oil in the jar, please add some extra olive oil or mild seed oil. Blitz until all the ingredients are crushed.

Two stages of sun-dried tomato pesto preparation: ingredients added to a food processor and final product.
Before and after. In this batch I chose to leave out the garlic.

Garlic in pesto: yes or no?

As I said before, garlic is one of those unmissable ingredients in pesto alla genovese. Yet, basil pesto without garlic does exist, even in Italy. Some people are quite sensitive to garlic and prefer to avoid it to prevent later digestive issues. Other just do not enjoy its strong flavour. In either case, this is okay. The wonderful thing about making food is that recipes can be tweaked and adjusted to best suit flavour preferences or dietary restrictions.

Should you use garlic in this vegan sun-dried tomato pesto? I say you should try making it both ways. While I have included garlic in the ingredient list, mostly because I really love garlic in pesto alla genovese, I personally prefer my sun-dried tomato pesto without garlic. While you might be missing out on the garlic’s “bite”, leaving it out you’ll have a milder, sweeter pesto where the lemon zest truly comes to the front. So you basically get to choose whether you wish to spice it up or not.

Vegan sun-dried tomato pesto in a jar.

What to use sun-dried tomato pesto for

This vegan sun-dried tomato pesto is an excellent spread. Actually, leave out the garlic and proceed to rub a clove directly onto a slice of toasted bread. Then spread this sun-dried tomato pesto on the bread. Here you have a lovely appetizer!

Don’t need to keep it vegan? Spread this sun-dried tomato pesto on a slice of bread, top with diced mozzarella and bake it in the oven until the cheese has melted and the bread has nicely toasted for some fantastic sun-dried tomato pesto crostini!

Piece of sourdough bread with sun-dried tomato pesto spread on top, pesto jar in the background.
Sun-dried tomato pesto is a fantastic spread on a slice of sourdough bread!

Otherwise you can use this vegan sun-dried tomato pesto for its most classic purpose: as a pasta sauce. The quantity of pesto you get from this recipe can be used with 250-300 g of pasta (the weight is that of uncooked pasta). For best results, just like with basil pesto, you should cut the pesto with some of the pasta’s cooking water. Stirring in a couple of tablespoons of hot water makes any pesto creamier. It will have a better texture to go with pasta.

For the ultimate summer pasta dish add some extra capers and a sprinkle of fresh lemon zest to your sun-dried tomato pesto pasta. This way you can get a delicious vegan pasta recipe that will surprise you with its bright flavours. Don’t need to keep it dairy free? Stir in a couple tablespoons of cream!

Spaghetti alla chitarra with red pesto, capers and lemon zest.
A delicious vegan pasta dish made with sun-dried tomato pesto, capers and lemon zest.

Spaghetti with sun-dried tomato pesto sauce with capers and lemon zest.

This vegan sun-dried tomato pesto with capers is such a delightful recipe. You’ll love how easy and quick it is to make – really, the hardest part is toasting the pine nuts! You choose if you want to add the garlic or if you prefer it without. You choose if you want to use it as a spread on toasted bread or as sauce to your favourite pasta. What’s to love is that with only 5 ingredients you can whip up a delicious vegan pesto in minutes. And once you try it, you’ll want to make it over and over again.

Vegan sun-dried tomato pesto in a jar.
5 from 9 votes
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Vegan sun-dried tomato pesto with capers

This sun-dried tomato pesto is made with capers and lemon zest for a refreshing full flavour. Make it with or without garlic and enjoy it on bread or as pasta sauce. Completely plant-based.

Course Sauce
Cuisine Italian, Mediterranean
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 2 people
Author Eva

Ingredients

  • 150 g sun-dried tomatoes in oil drained
  • 130 g olive oil, or oil from the sun-dried tomato jar
  • 50 g pine nuts
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 1/2 lemon zested
  • 1 garlic clove (optional)

Instructions

  1. Toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes. Keep a constant eye on them and move them often to prevent burning. Remove from hot skillet as soon as pine nuts are done.

  2. Add sun-dried tomatoes, oil, toasted pine nuts, capers, lemon zest and garlic (if desired) to a food processor and blitz. Alternatively, you can add all ingredients to a container and blend with a hand blender. If the sun-dried tomato jar did not have enough oil, add some olive oil.

Recipe Notes

Store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week.

If using on pasta, this quantity will work great with 250-300 g pasta (uncooked weight). Cut the pesto with some of the pasta cooking water to smooth its texture for use as pasta sauce.

Leaving out the garlic will bring the lemon zest forward. For an even more lemony flavour I would recommend also adding freshly grated lemon zest over your pasta.

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20 Comments

  1. Amanda June 15, 2020 at 22:16

    5 stars
    I’m so in love with this pesto! The sun-dried tomatoes made for the most flavorful sauce, and I love how versatile it is. Will definitely make again this summer!

    Reply
    1. Eva June 17, 2020 at 14:07

      Hi Amanda! This is such a perfect summer pesto!

      Reply
  2. Jess June 17, 2020 at 07:12

    5 stars
    I love the combo of sun dried tomatoes and capers. Delish!

    Reply
    1. Eva June 17, 2020 at 14:08

      Thank you, Jess!

      Reply
  3. Pam June 18, 2020 at 16:21

    5 stars
    We love this pesto and use it on everything. For quick and easy pasta nights, I try to always have a jar in the fridge or the freezer.

    Reply
    1. Eva June 21, 2020 at 12:37

      Hi Pam! What a great idea to make larger batches and keep it frozen!

      Reply
  4. Lori | The Kitchen Whisperer June 19, 2020 at 17:08

    5 stars
    You had me at capers! Anything that has capers and tomatoes I’m in love! This sounds INCREDIBLE and absolutely delicious! I havev all of the ingredients on hand and can’t wait to try this on pizza dough over the weekend!!!

    Reply
    1. Eva June 21, 2020 at 12:38

      Thanks Lori! It must be great on pizza dough, you’re absolutely right!

      Reply
  5. Veronika June 19, 2020 at 18:34

    5 stars
    This pesto looks absolutely delicious! and I already have so many ideas what to use it with! Need to make a big batch with use with different meals during the week!

    Reply
    1. Eva June 21, 2020 at 12:38

      Thank you, Veronika! It’s a great sauce to have at hand in the summer.

      Reply
  6. Leslie June 19, 2020 at 21:41

    5 stars
    This pesto would be so amazing with so many things! I love the idea of this with pasta! It looks amazing!

    Reply
    1. Eva June 21, 2020 at 12:39

      Thank you, Leslie!

      Reply
  7. Tammy June 20, 2020 at 23:36

    I really love the fresh lemon zest in there! Definitely need to try this…there is nothing more comforting than a plate of pasta and sauce. Looks delicious!

    Reply
    1. Eva June 21, 2020 at 12:39

      Thanks Tammy! Hope you enjoy!

      Reply
  8. Sharon June 21, 2020 at 17:25

    5 stars
    This pasta has so much flavor! I love the addition of the lemon zest and briny capers which is such a unique combination with the sun-dried tomatoes.

    Reply
    1. Eva June 21, 2020 at 18:58

      Hi Sharon! Glad to see that you like this!

      Reply
  9. Ramona June 21, 2020 at 23:31

    5 stars
    I have never added capers to my sundried tomato pesto but I must do this, it looks and sounds absolutely divine. Love your pictures too. I am so hungry now for this divine looking pasta 😉

    Reply
    1. Eva June 22, 2020 at 11:19

      Thank you, Ramona! You know, adding capers you can just go ahead and skip the salt! You will have to try next time you’re making it!

      Reply
  10. Paula Montenegro June 22, 2020 at 01:37

    5 stars
    I thought I was the only one using pine nuts for making pesto haha. This is a wonderful recipe with ingredients I absolutely adore! Adding capers is genius. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    1. Eva June 22, 2020 at 11:18

      Hi Paula! Well then you are one of the few who actually use an ingredient from the original recipe, as traditional basil pesto calls for pins nuts! They’re just so expensive and difficult to find… as for the capers, they add a salty flavour that pairs wonderfully with sundries tomatoes. You have to try it!

      Reply

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